Who will tell the story of the Holo­caust when sur­vivors are gone?

Lodi News-Sentinel - - RELIGION - By Carli Te­proff

For 11 years the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami paired Holo­caust sur­vivors with more than 500 stu­dents, build­ing bonds while ex­pos­ing the stu­dents to the har­row­ing hor­rors the men and women lived through when they were, in many cases, their age or younger.

The idea be­hind the project: Keep the sto­ries alive so the younger gen­er­a­tions can retell the sto­ries to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

But there weren’t enough sur­vivors to keep the program go­ing. Mindy Hersh, the di­rec­tor of aca­demic en­rich­ment for the Holo­caust Sur­vivors Stu­dent In­tern­ship Program at UM for six years, said they were faced with the dif­fi­cult ques­tion: Who will tell the sur­vivors’ story when all the sur­vivors are gone?

Only 100,000 Holo­caust sur­vivors re­main alive in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the Con­fer­ence on Jewish Ma­te­rial Claims Against Ger­many. And a March 2018 sur­vey by the con­fer­ence re­vealed many mil­len­ni­als do not know the de­tails of the Holo­caust. In fact, 35 per­cent of mil­len­ni­als polled were “un­sure” what Auschwitz -- the con­cen­tra­tion camp in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Poland where more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple died dur­ing World War II -- was.

Borne from that and the sober­ing re­al­ity of life with­out Holo­caust sur­vivors, Hersh set out to cre­ate a doc­u­men­tary based on the UM program, fo­cus­ing on the stu­dents. And so “My Sur­vivor,” an hour-long doc­u­men­tary, shot and pro­duced in Mi­ami, came to life. The film is de­but­ing at 8:30 p.m. Thurs­day at the Mi­ami Theater Cen­ter in Mi­ami Shores as part of the Mi­ami Jewish Film Fes­ti­val.

“Over time, the num­ber of sur­vivors that were able to par­tic­i­pate de­creased dra­mat­i­cally,” said Hersh, the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the film and whose par­ents are Holo­caust sur­vivors. (Her mom passed away two years ago and her dad is 91.) “Hav­ing to make the painful decision to end the program was re­ally pro­found.”

Hersh teamed with Jerry Levine, an Emmy Award-win­ning film­maker, to make the movie, film­ing on cam­pus, at the Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mi­ami Beach and at the homes of sur­vivors through­out Mi­ami-Dade. Also work­ing on the film as ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers: He­len Chaset and Max­ine Schwartz. Bon­nie Reiter-Lehrer was the cre­ative pro­ducer.

For Jackie Arve­don, who grad­u­ated from UM in 2016, be­ing in the film helped her un­der­stand her fam­ily his­tory.

“It’s some­thing I grew up hear­ing -- one day the sur­vivors won’t be here to tell their story,” said Arve­don, who par­tic­i­pated in the in­tern­ship from 2015-2016, the last year UM of­fered the two-se­mes­ter program.

"It’s our responsibility to tell their story for them.”

Arve­don, 24, grew up in the shadow of the Holo­caust.

Her grand­fa­ther, Sol Lida, was 17 when the Nazis took over his home­town of Dzialoszyce in Poland in Septem­ber 1942. Ini­tially, a Pol­ish fam­ily hid him and his fam­ily but they sur­ren­dered when the Nazis threat­ened to kill any Poles har­bor­ing Jews. The Nazis moved Arve­don’s grand­fa­ther from camp to camp be­fore he was lib­er­ated in May 1945 from the Mau­thausen con­cen­tra­tion camp in Aus­tria.

It wasn’t un­til he passed away in 2015 at age 90 that Arve­don re­al­ized she couldn’t let his story die with him. Or any sur­vivor story.

“Hear­ing that the program was end­ing was a re­al­ity check,” said Arve­don, en­rolled in med­i­cal school at Florida In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity. “It hit me that the fu­ture is now and that all of the sur­vivors will soon be gone.”

For the in­tern­ship, Arve­don was paired with Fred Mul­bauer, 89, and liv­ing in Aven­tura.

“I was re­ally sad the program ended,” said Mul­bauer, who vol­un­teers at the Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mi­ami Beach and speaks to stu­dents. “My main mission is for peo­ple to not for­get.”

Mul­bauer, who was born in Cze­choslo­vakia, was just 13 when the knock came at his fam­ily’s door in Stavna telling them they had 15 min­utes to leave. It was 1943; the Nazi storm troop­ers marched into Cze­choslo­vakia in March 1939.

Mul­bauer was loaded on a cat­tle car with his par­ents and his sis­ter. They spent four days crammed in the box­car with other Jews on their way to Auschwitz. When they ar­rived his mother -- who tried to help an­other woman with small chil­dren by tak­ing one of them -- was sent straight to the gas cham­ber.

By telling the sol­diers he was 16, Mul­bauer was able to go with his father to a la­bor camp. His sis­ter Lili was sent to work. His father died shortly after ar­riv­ing at the camp; his sis­ter sur­vived.

Mul­bauer was even­tu­ally lib­er­ated from Buchen­wald, one of the largest Na–zi con­cen­tra­tion camps on Ger­man soil, but was sick with ty­phoid. He spent nearly two years in a Swedish hospi­tal re­cov­er­ing.

He came to the United States and with the help of the He­brew Im­mi­gra­tion Aid So­ci­ety, at­tended watch school. He even­tu­ally opened a jew­elry store in New York and moved to South Florida in 2002.

While re­liv­ing his story al­ways “brings tears,” he said be­ing part of the film -- and be­ing part of the stu­dents’ lives -- has been en­rich­ing.

“My story is in good hands,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, too.”

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